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The Leaf Blower Battle

Marian Carter

The recent Los Angeles ban on leaf blowers has renewed many local residents interest in a comprehensive ban on all gas-powered two-stroke machines throughout the Coachella Valley.

Joan Graves, wife of actor Peter Graves, who spearheaded the Los Angeles ban, states: "For ten years we tried to get a ban on the basis of noise; we succeeded only when the public became aware that these machines also pose serious health and environmental hazards. Studies have shown that the particulates spewed into the air by leaf blowers contribute to and aggravate respiratory and allergy problems, as well as add a significant amount of pollution."

"They're like hair dryers, too," she adds, "since they dry out and destroy the fragile topsoil." According to CALOSHA, hearing loss and other medical implications also begin occurring after only twenty minutes of exposure to the machines per day. The South Coast Air Quality Management District also states that a typical 3.5 horsepower gas mower can emit the same amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) - key precursors to smog - in an hour as a new car driven 340 miles. Although Indian Wells has had a successful leaf blower ban in effect since 1990, other communities such as Palm Springs and Palm Desert have been slow to follow, despite a growing concern from their constituents.

Palm Desert residents,in particular,feel frustrated that their city, which claims to be an environmental leader, has downplayed this issue. For many years, Marian Henderson, the founder of Desert Beautiful, has put her organization on the side of getting noise and poor air quality eliminated all over the Desert. An advocate of children as well, she has seen their health problems escalate over the past year, and feels strongly that young people should not inhale the pollutants, pesticides, fecal matter, etc., from these machines at such an important time in their lives. "If they can clean up and regulate motorcycles, they can clean up these machines. They should just be banned!"

Traveler's Inn Manager Pattie Butts agrees. "The Desert should be synonymous with peace and quiet, especially for our visitors who come here to rest and relax. Instead, Palm Desert has increasing amounts of noise and pollution of the worst kind. We get a lot of complaints from guests who cannot sleep because of loud blowers coming from the parking lot, and guests at the pool regularly complain about the horrible noise around them."

South Palm Desert resident Marian Carter, whose neighborhood has been plagued for years by daily noise and pollution from the bordering Sandpiper Community, adds, "We knew we had lots of residential support for a ban, but now we know we have the support of the business community as well. With the exception of the Marriott Desert Springs Resort, all the local hotels, inns, stores, etc., that we contacted said a comprehensive ban would not be a problem for them."

"When local residents cannot open their windows or doors, go out in their backyards, sleep or work for days at a time because of unbearable noise and fumes, and suffer enormous physical damage on top of it all, our city officials need to protect their citizens and the community, and ban all two-stroke engines, beginning with the leaf blowers. Since more people than ever before now work at home-estimated by some economists to be twenty-five per cent (25%) of the work force-you also have a lot more people being affected," explained Carter. "I've seen everything from birds being blown apart to plants being decimated by these awful machines. Even luxury cars parked at the Town Center near Highway 111 get debris blown right into their grills when the blowers go by. Sandpiper's prolonged noise and fumes have woken up and driven away many of our guests and even some potential homeowners, so it has really become an intolerable situation on all levels.."

Martin Lax, a lawyer who resides in Indian Wells, but works in Palm Desert concurs, "My wife and I had planned to buy a new home in Palm Desert, but we ended up in Indian Wells because it felt so much quieter, cleaner, and safer for ourselves and our baby. It's nice to know our City Council has its citizens' health and welfare in mind - like Indian Wells. Leaf blowers, edgers, etc., are the kind of problem that bothers everyone but because people are so busy, it's also the kind of problem they expect their City Councils to address, especially in a progressive area like Palm Desert."

As of last May, forty-two cities throughout California either had or were considering leaf blower bans, including San Diego and Sacramento. Glenn Barr, Deputy to L.A. City Councilman Marvin Braude, says, "Leaf blowers only became popular in the seventies as a result of California's multi-year drought. City Councils have every reason to connect the quality of life in their communities with the health of their tourist industry. Tourism is not a one time business. A city will succeed as a tourist destination if people feel welcome and comfortable. It's hard to feel comfortable if loud noises and clouds of dust make it impossible to sleep, carry on a conversation, or breathe clean air."


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